During a Senate committee hearing Thursday, 12th District Sen. Brad Hawkins presented a bill that would allow progress on his proposed Regional Aquatic Center and Sports Complex to continue.

This bill would alter the existing Public Facilities District statute that lets regional communities seek voter approval in order to construct the proposed complex.

East Wenatchee Mayor Jerrilea Crawford, Chelan-Douglas Regional Port Authority CEO Jim Kuntz, Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz, and Chelan County Commissioner Kevin Overbay also spoke at the committee hearing.

This bill is co-sponsored by 22nd District Sen. Sam Hunt, whose Olympia-based district is also considering an aquatic center.

On Jan. 12, Hawkins presented SB 5001 to the Senate Committee on Local Government, Land Use and Tribal Affairs. 

Hawkins stated that discussion on creating another aquatic center began when the Wenatchee City Pool needed repairs. He stated that the aging infrastructure of the pool and population growth in both Wenatchee and East Wenatchee gave local legislators the opportunity to explore aquatic center alternatives.

Stakeholders for the complex are proposing to build a combined aquatic and sports center on the 283-acre “Wenatchi Landing” site, located near the Odabashian Bridge and Sunset Highway in East Wenatchee. 

This proposed bill would give Chelan and Douglas County voters the opportunity to vote on whether they would pay 0.2 percent of their sales tax towards a second PFD.

In order for the Regional Aquatic Center and Sports Complex to be financially viable, voters would need to approve a second Public Facilities District (PFD). 

Currently, local governments can only legally authorize three local sales taxes to fund Public Facilities Districts (PFDs), but cannot exceed 0.2 percent of the sales tax.

Chelan County residents are already sending 0.2 percent of their sales tax to the Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee.

Hawkins told the committee about the time when the City of Wenatchee defaulted on their municipal bonds while building the Town Toyota Center back in 2011. 

While working with the Department of Revenue, Hakwins discovered that the financial situation in 2011 resulted in an increase in sales tax revenue going towards Town Toyota Center.

When asked about the default incident, Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz said the city managed to financially recover with some help from local sales tax revenue and that another default was unlikely to occur.

Kuntz also said that Town Toyota Center is just as financially successful as any other PFD in the state, referencing situations in which the center served as a vaccination center during the pandemic.

“Having these facilities is more than just a hockey game or a concert,” Kuntz said. “These are large benefits to our region, we’re thrilled that we have it, and quite frankly we’ve learned our lessons and those sorts of defaults aren’t going to happen again.”

Both Overbay and Crawford said that stakeholders are currently working on a feasibility study like Olympia, and that passing this bill would help them move forward.

Senior Associate for Lodestar Partners Blake Baldwin came to represent the Chelan-Douglas Regional Port Authority, stating that this complex would bring more economic development to the region.

Parks, Arts, and Recreation Director for the City of Olympia, Paul Simmons, expressed support for the bill, stating that Olympia had conducted their own aquatic feasibility study in 2020, but required additional funding in order to move forward.

The Senate Committee on Local Government, Land Use, and Tribal Affairs will discuss this bill during an executive session on Jan. 19 at 10:30 a.m.

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